Why successful meetings start and end with Poll Everywhere

11 million meetings take place in the US every day.

That’s nearly three billion meetings per year, at an average cost of $338 per meeting.

What’s your share of that cost?

If meetings are such productivity killers, why have them at all?

“As an engineer, there is nothing more beautiful than opening up my calendar in the morning and seeing an entirely meeting-free day for coding.” — Medium.com developer Jean Hsu

Meetings get a bad rap, and the numbers say it’s well deserved. To many of the people sitting in those meetings (basically everyone outside of management and the C-suite) the time spent is wasted productivity.

Those people aren’t wrong, but neither are those that defend meetings as a critical tool. Writing for HBR in 1976, Antony Jay ties meetings to the very real need for sociality:

Granting that “referring the matter to a committee” can be a device for diluting authority, diffusing responsibility, and delaying decisions, I cannot deny that meetings fulfill a deep human need. Man is a social species. In every organization and every human culture of which we have record, people come together in small groups at regular and frequent intervals, and in larger “tribal” gatherings from time to time. If there are no meetings in the places where they work, people’s attachment to the organizations they work for will be small, and they will meet in regular formal or informal gatherings in associations, societies, teams, clubs, or pubs when work is over. — Antony Jay, How to Run a Meeting

In other words, workers are going to gather somewhere to fulfill their needs as social animals. Those gatherings may as well be meetings.

With the rise of remote work, meetings are more important than ever

To reiterate: meetings fulfill a basic need for social interaction, which is often forgotten in the all-out rush to maximize productivity.

And as companies increasingly turn to remote work for its many benefits — early research suggests remote workers are happier and more productive, in addition to the cost savings — that need for sociality grows all the more important.

Working from home has increased by 103 percent since 2005 — not including the self-employed — and nearly four million workers work from home at least half of the time.

Expect those numbers to rise dramatically in the next few years. A full 34 percent of business leaders surveyed at the Global Leadership Summit in London estimate that half of their respective workforces will telecommute by 2020.

More remote workers means more social isolation, making the social role of meetings even more critical.

Better to make the most of every meeting minute. Here’s how.


Problem: Lack of a meeting agenda leads to wasted time

Solution: Deploy a Q&A to set the agenda

successful meetings Q&A

63 percent of meetings lack a predefined agenda
. This makes it easy for anyone, at any time, to hijack the discussion for their own purposes.

That’s a problem. Hijacking just five minutes in a 12-person meeting is one hour of productivity lost.

To combat hijacked productivity, start each meeting with a Q&A  to define the meeting’s agenda.

A Q&A at the start of the meeting allows everyone to chime in on what should be on the table in the allotted time. The rest of the participants can then upvote the items they agree are important.

From there, just choose your number: discuss the 3 most important items, the 5 most important items, and so on. That way, you’ve established from the outset what’s in-bounds and what’s off-limits. If anyone goes off-topic, gently remind them of the focus of the meeting.

Tip: The presenter has the power to pin an agenda item to the top of the list if participants don’t upvote a response. Just hover over the agenda item and click the thumbtack that appears.


Problem: Not everyone feels comfortable speaking up in a meeting

Solution: Use an open-ended poll to include everyone

successful meetings open-ended poll

Successful meetings generate ideas in addition to honing focus on a given project. But when those ideas are collected orally, only those who are comfortable speaking up tend to contribute. That’s a shame, because as many as half of your meeting participants identify as introverts.

If you’re not making an effort to collect input from that half of the room, you’re leaving a ton of ideas on the table. Instead of asking for ideas or agenda items verbally, give the entire room a voice with a quick, open-ended poll at the end of the meeting. You may want to dedicate specific time to this — 5 minutes in a 30-minute meeting should do it.


Problem: There’s no measurable way to get better at meetings

Solution: Use a clickable image to track your progress

Smile sheets are well-known in the corporate training world as a fast way to measure the  efficacy of a training lesson. The method is simple: ask participants to rate the training, then compile the results.

Smile sheets typically look something like this:

smile sheet template image

But smile sheets aren’t just for training lessons. They’re also an easy way to create more engaged employees. How?

Consider the peak-end rule, which states that we rate experiences based largely on what we remember of the climax and the end of that experience. If a meeting ends with employees being asked about their opinion, those employees will likely remember feeling heard, and will associate those positive emotions to the meeting itself.

By asking employees how they feel about a meeting, you collect information that can be used to determine whether you, or your company as a whole, are getting better at managing successful meetings.

And, luck of luck, you don’t even have to go searching for a smile sheet image to use. When you create a clickable image, you can use your own photo, or one of the provided images. The image used above is one of the default templates.

successful meetings smile sheet


Problem: No one takes note of every actionable item in a meeting

Solution: Deploy a rank order question at the end of meetings to set future agendas

successful meetings rank order question

In a successful meeting, new agenda items will emerge. Assign one person to keep track of those items as the meeting progresses and enter those items as a potential new meeting in a Ranking poll.

For example, say sales numbers are on the agenda for the current meeting. When the discussion on those numbers begins, Jim voices a suggestion on how those numbers are calculated. That might be worth a discussion, but it’s not on the agenda for the current meeting.

Simply put that suggestion — and all others that aren’t on the docket — into a rank order question. At the end of the meeting, everyone can rank the topics they think warrant a meeting. The top one or two can then be scheduled for separate meetings.


Successful meetings respect our most valuable resource: time

Time isn’t just money, it’s also a sign of respect. By making the most efficient use of your colleagues’ time, you convey a simple but powerful message:

I know your time is valuable, and I promise not to waste it.

Got a tip on how to run more successful meetings? Share it with the Poll Everywhere community, where veteran presenters share and collect their best ideas.

Happy polling!


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